Giancarlo Falappa stopped racing when I was a teenager. The TV coverage wasn’t good at all since the World Superbike wasn’t even ten years old.
I watched all the footage of him and even met him once. They say “never meet your heroes” but with Falappa was different. I’ve heard so much about him that my hand was shaky and sweaty when I reached his. And before I could ask him about the 916, which he developed, he asked me if I raced and in which class.
I put together 5 facts that will give you an idea of what kind of rider he was. I know it’s hard to believe but it’s all true.
1# The motocross crash
Once during a motocross race, he crashed right after the start with other two riders. Falappa stood up grabbed the first bike which seemed to be his and set off again. He was 40th far from the last. He reached the group and started to overtake one by one until he finished the race in the 6th place. Sadly, he was disqualified right after the race because you’re supposed to cross the line with the right bike.
2# The record lap
During the last race of the Sport Production National Championship, he broke a foot peg in the warm-up lap. To not be disqualified he acted normal and put his foot on the exhaust. He was leading the race and set a new lap record of the track, but at his boot was melting against the exhaust and the heat cost him the concentration and crashed.
3# The truck driver job
Bimota decided to give him a chance, offering to ride the last three races of the World Championship hiring him as a truck driver. Underpaid and with more work to do than the official rider Biliotti, he drove the truck from Italy to England so that the important people, like the rider and the mechanics, could rest. Biliotti offered him to show him the track because he knew it from the 500cc. But after the qualifying, the results are mind-blowing. Biliotti is 24th and Falappa is 1st and on Sunday he won the race too. Biliotti stopped racing that year.
4# The broken handlebar
After several team colleagues later, Bimota hired Mike Baldwin, AMA Champion. Baldwin was fast and brave enough to engage a fight with Falappa. During the last laps of a race, at 300 km/h hitting each other, Falappa broke the left handlebar against Baldwin’s bike completing the last 2 laps holding himself on the suspension with no clutch, making clear that Falappa would rather die instead of coming second. Baldwin gave up and Falappa won again.
5# Fear of the Lion
He didn’t care about points or championship, he wanted to finish first. This commitment to victory scared other riders in some occasion. Stéphan Mertens was leading the race in Spa-Francorchamps almost until the end when he suddenly saw Falappa coming closer and closer. Knowing the reputation of the “Lion of Jesi”, Mertens decided that if he wanted to see the podium he should avoid a direct battle with Falappa, so he let him pass keeping the second place. After the race, he confessed that Falappa would have passed him anyway and if he would have resisted, it would have just made the process more painful.
Bonus Track# The impossible race in the rain
Brands Hatch was the home circuit of “King” Carl Fogarty, who was the favorite. But this time was different, it rained, and after the first lap, Falappa was leading with 18 seconds from the second. This isn’t a typo, I really meant 18 seconds, in the rain, in one lap. Fogarty crashed after trying to keep the pace while Falappa overlapped every rider till the 7th position. He finished the race with a colossal gap of one and a half minute from the second.
There are lots of stories about Falappa, most of them are hard to believe, but I guarantee you, it’s all true.